Interview: Ian Drummond, creative director, Indoor Garden Design

Ian Drummond, creative director, Indoor Garden Design. Image: Ian Drummond
Ian Drummond, creative director, Indoor Garden Design. Image: Ian Drummond

Designing plant displays for Sir Elton John's garden party, holding an exhibition at the Barbican art gallery and changing Leicester Square film premiere red carpets into green walkways festooned with plants are not the norm for the average horticulturist.

But Indoor Garden Design (IGD) director Ian Drummond is designing for the London premiere of Warner Brothers' big winter cinema release Where the Wild Things Are on 6 December. For the event, he will "turn the red carpet green" with a unique type of jungle planting scheme that features Phoenix palms replicating the illustrations from the children's classic book.

At the Barbican gallery, also in London, Drummond's installation for the Barbican Radical Nature is on display until 28 October, when it will be going on a national tour beginning in Glasgow on 1 November.

At this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Shower IGD won a silver medal for its joint collaboration with James Wong on the Canary Islands Spa Garden.

IGD's "plant art" led it to be commissioned by the Elton John AIDS Foundation to produce live plant sculpture in the style of Jeff Koons at the famed annual White Tie & Tiara Ball, giving Drummond the chance to get creative and work like a fashion or interior designer – but using plants.

At London Fashion Week, Drummond provided a rare blast of colour among the cool black backdrops with hundreds of Mandevilla plants trailing down in a mass of reds and pinks giving a suitably feminine feel to the event.

More conventional but still high-profile work is taking place for Canary Wharf and Harrods – involving a Wizard of Oz 70th-anniversary display and interpretation of the styles of fashion designers, such as John Galliano, on Christmas trees – along with a project at Heals in London on 14 November involving a demonstration of how to dress Christmas trees and a green wall at Joel Robuchon's London restaurant.

Drummond says green walls are "not an easy system to maintain. I love them, but green roofs have environmental benefits, green walls less so."

The plants he likes to use are generally sourced from Holland. However, he does source orchids from Ivens in Hertfordshire and other flowering plants from the UK, using Covent Garden market, where he will launch a Christmas tree demonstration on 28 October.

Houseplant of the year (Drummond was a judge) Dracaena 'Rikki' is a cheaper option, while larger plants such as Cymbidium, Yucca, Ficus, Sansevieria and Howea – plus smaller ones including Aloe vera, cactus, Crassula, Guzmania and Asplenium fern – are Drummond's stock in trade.

He also uses flowering plants such as Phalaenopsis, Hyacinthus, Geranium, Azalea, Auricula, Helleborus, Hydrangea, Kalanchoe, Viola, Citrus, Cyclamen, poinsettia and Jasminum for indoor or outdoor displays.

Next year, Drummond hopes for a return to London Fashion Week and Chelsea, again with Wong and for an "ideal office garden" feature in the Grand Pavilion, which Drummond reveals the RHS is trying to revamp as more of a feature-led than nursery-led space.

He says: "The RHS is encouraging a transformation of the pavilion. This will be a really contemporary, educational piece. They are not changing the sellers but are encouraging designers to come in and make the inside more attractive."

More humdrum is the "bread and butter" office-maintenance work Drummond does with IGD, which Ed Wolf founded in 1975 as a tropical plant supplier and interior landscape design company. Drummond was a "geeky kid" back then, living in a gardenless London house. He gardened at relatives' houses and, despite receiving "no encouragement" at school, followed his horticultural dream to join the celebrity florist and plant designer Ken Hayford's shop in the 1980s before calling in at IGD, which is based near his north London home, and successfully asking for a job 18 years ago.

While the high-profile work garners the headlines, it is Drummond's office plantings that benefit the most people. Scientists such as Fjeld, Ulrich and Wolverton say indoor plants can clean the air, reduce illness and improve people's moods.

Researchers have found that this can lead to one per cent reduced absenteeism so that a £10,000 spend on 100 plant roughs, and £3,000 annual maintenance plus £2,000 write-offs, can still save £5,000 per year at a company with 100 employees on an average annual salary of £20,000.

NASA scientist Wolverton found that plants can reduce airborne moulds responsible for sick building illnesses in sealed offices by 50 per cent. Norwegian professor Fjeld found that illnesses such as headaches, coughs and sore throats fall by 30 to 45 per cent in offices, hospitals and schools with plants.

Plants for People, the Flowers & Plants Association and Efig have backed campaigns to introduce more plants into the workplace. Drummond says: "It is very important from research to try to get that through to a client. We need to communicate this at a high level so it does not just sound like sales patter."

He says architects now know the value of plants in offices and understand that they are "not an add-on".

The corporate competition riles Drummond somewhat. He believes that facilities companies see plants as an extra to their core business of cleaning and servicing offices. "I hope we've moved away from just having a plant in a pot in the corner, but the facilities people see office plants in that way," he says. "It's not just about budget and lumping it in with cleaning and standard facilities services."

He would like to see office plants appear on a checklist of essentials for architects and to be included in BREEAM ratings for offices. He has been in talks with the Green Building Council to push this angle.

The recession led to a downturn at the beginning of the year in the office-plants industry, where companies make money by charging for maintenance. But things picked up this summer. Drummond says it was "a nice surprise for us. We didn't lose anyone, although people were reducing how much they wanted to spend. Things are stable now."

He says his high-profile work has helped build IGD's name and has led to more business to keep the company's 35 technicians employed.

He is now working on a "completely different way to house plants in an office". But he doesn't want to tell the competition before he unveils the concept next year, which promises to be busier and more varied than ever for Drummond.


Early 1980s Apprenticeship at celebrity florist Ken Hayford, west London

Late 1980s Works at Bouquet de Fleur garden centre

1991 Joins Indoor Garden Design

1999 to date Creative director, Indoor Garden Design

2007 to date Member of European Federation of Indoor Landscaping Groups (Efig) committee

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